Mr. Speaker, I move that the first report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, presented on Monday, November 15, 1999, be concurred in.
It is my pleasure to rise and address this issue. I would be completely remiss if I did not address the ongoing problems in human resources development.
It is rather obvious that the government today has a huge problem when it comes to how it monitors and controls its spending. I do not think I could find a better example in the six years that I have been here than what we see going on today in the Department of Human Resources Development.
I will begin first by making some reference to the facts and then, second, to draw attention to the response of the minister today in question period to these things.
I will run through some of the audit highlights that have been revealed to us by the internal audit that was made possible when the Reform Party, through an access to information request, forced the minister to reveal the mess and forced her to come clean on what was happening in that department.
I will run through the facts again because I think there was some information today in question period that probably left some people unclear.
Of the 459 project files reviewed, 15% did not have an application on file from the sponsor. This is a random audit. There are thousands and thousands of files. This was only a very tiny percentage. Seventy-two per cent of the files had no cashflow forecast, 46% had no estimate of the number of participants, 25% had no description of activities to be supported, 25% provided no description of the characteristics of participants, and 11% had no budget proposal. These things are fairly basic.
Eleven per cent of the files had no description of expected results and 97% of all files reviewed showed no evidence that anyone had checked to see if the recipient owed money to the Department of Human Resources Development. Eight out of 10 files reviewed did not show evidence of financial monitoring and 87% of files showed no sign of supervision.
These grant applications represent a billion dollars. A lot of people are rightly referring to this as the billion dollar boondoggle or bungle. It is atrocious. I do not think anybody who is alive today can remember anything so poorly managed by any level of government. It is absolutely outrageous.
I will talk about some of the things we heard in question period today when we posed serious questions to the minister about her handling or mishandling of this case. A moment ago we saw the Minister for International Trade who certainly had a hand to play in this. However, I want to talk about the current minister's role in all of this. Whenever we ask a question about her accountability she instantly tries to draw attention away from that and talk about what she will do in the future.
The concept of accountability includes taking some responsibility for one's role in a past problem. That is an aspect the government has run away from at every opportunity. It simply refuses to talk about what has gone on in the past as though it does not matter. In the private sector, when there is an issue of accountability the very first thing people do is either admit their responsibility and take their punishment or, if they refuse to admit it, they are ultimately punished by the people in charge and in some cases are let go.
Somehow the government thinks we are all going to ignore that, that it does not matter what it has done in the past and that we should just forgive and forget. Well, we are talking about a billion dollars of taxpayers' money at a time when many Canadians are rightly concerned that very important and essential services may not be getting money. People argue, and I think correctly, that taxes in Canada are far too high and yet the government is mismanaging an incredible amount of money, a billion dollars that we know about.
Many of us suspect that there is a culture of neglect that runs right through the government. We can point to other departments where there are all kinds of grants and subsidies handed out and we suspect that in many cases they are handed out for completely the wrong reasons.
Did the minister accept any responsibility today? Absolutely not. When it came to something that was such a glaring contradiction, she tried to sweep it under the rug. We pointed out, and she admitted this in the House today, that on November 17 she knew about these problems. She may have known about them earlier, we do not know, but she certainly admitted knowing about these problems on November 17.
However, on December 16, when my colleague questioned her about problems in human resources development, she said “no money flowed without appropriate approval”. That is a direct quote from Hansard . She completely covered up what was going on in that department. She is solely responsible for holding back these facts from the public, facts that I think are critical. We are talking about a billion dollars at a time when people are concerned about health care, when taxes are too high, when emergency aid is not forthcoming to the prairies, and on and on we could go.
Although it is true that the mess goes well beyond this minister, that it goes back to the previous minister, the minister before that and the human resources bureaucrats, and there is no doubt about that, there is also no question that the minister today is the one who is responsible for hiding the facts about what was going on. She alone is responsible for that. I would argue that is a firing violation.
I would argue that she should resign because it is the honourable thing to do. However, if she will not do that, then the Prime Minister has an obligation to fire her. We remember his words from 1991. He said in this place that if he should become prime minister and one of his ministers did something like this and there was a problem, that the buck would not get passed, that the buck would stop with that minister and that the minister would accept responsibility.
Now we see the Prime Minister expecting Canadians to just ignore all those promises that his government would somehow be better than the previous government and that it would deal with things directly. However, we cannot do that. It is wrong. It is a billion dollars. Again, it is one of the biggest bungles that I can ever remember in the history of this place and somehow the Liberals want us to ignore that. We will not do that. I can guarantee the House that the official opposition is on the job and we will pursue this until we do get some justice from the government.
I want to talk a little bit about something else the minister said during question period today. She wanted us of course to forget about the past. She wanted us to forget about it and let bygones by bygones, even though it is only a billion dollars. She also said that she has a six point plan, that her department has implemented this new six point plan and that from here on in things will be hunky-dory, things will go great.
What the minister did not mention is that under the Financial Administration Act those procedures that she is talking about should be followed already. Those are already supposed to be followed by the government. This is nothing new. It is her responsibility to follow those things. I do not know how many times the auditor general has taken the government to task for not following these basic procedures in the Financial Administration Act, but somehow it never gets through.
Now we uncover this huge mess, not because the government wanted it to happen but because it was forced to reveal it. Now the Liberals say that they have this new plan. It is not an old plan, it has simply never been executed.
The auditor general has told us time after time that there should be clear, measurable objectives when the government embarks on an initiative. What do we find when we look at this mess? We find that all kinds of money was sent out which did not create one job in many instances. In fact, lots of times the money went to things that were never approved in the first place, but there was no monitoring, so how would the government know that.
We had the case of the money that was supposed to be used for a child care study. Money for furniture had been requested by a native band in British Columbia but it was used instead to purchase jewels.
I think Canadians are right to be not only concerned but outraged that the government is so sanguine in its response to this, saying “Forget about it. It happened in the past and we will fix it in the future”.
The concept of accountability demands that there be some punishment. I think right-thinking Canadians everywhere believe that someone should take responsibility for this. So far no one has. No one has said “I will take responsibility and I will willingly step down”, or “I will fire officials who made these sorts of decisions”. None of that has happened.
I argue that the government is way off base if it thinks that in the next budget that comes down Canadians will sit idly by and allow the minister to take taxpayers' dollars to embark on all kinds of new initiatives or increase spending in existing departments when we know that the government is rotten to the core when it comes to mismanagement and lack of accountability. Why would the taxpayers willingly give the government a single penny knowing that this goes on and that the government is so eager to sweep all of this under the carpet?
I would argue that Canadians today have a right to ask that we go through every department, that we go through the Department of Human Resources Development, not just the projects that were audited, but all of the projects and find the waste, the mismanagement and the corruption and root it out.
We could do the same thing in the Department of Canadian Heritage where we know that the government issues hundreds of millions of dollars of grants every year. We should go through every one of those programs.
We should go to the Department of Industry, where we know that the government spends millions of dollars propping up very profitable businesses, and asking tough questions like “Why are they getting that money? Is there accountability? Should they get that money at all?” Of course, we would argue, no. We would argue that the money is better left in the hands of taxpayers who would be a lot more responsible with it than bureaucrats and politicians.
We think we should go to the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. I do not know how many times we have had the auditor general come forward and say that there is a lack of monitoring going on in the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and that we do not know what happens to money that goes to native bands.
We see cases, even recently in Alberta where people are being brought up on charges because of mismanagement in those bands. Does the government take any of this seriously? No, it tries to sweep it under the carpet.
We could go on and on. It is time to have a serious look at what goes on in CIDA today. A lot of people rightly argue, and we have raised these questions in the past in this place, that some of the money spent by the government through CIDA is done for political reasons, the political allocation of economic resources.
I would argue that not just $1 billion is mismanaged and improperly accounted for. I would argue that it is billions upon billions of dollars. The government does not have the moral authority to ask for one penny more until the auditor general undertakes a review of every department and roots out the waste and mismanagement that we all know is there.
I remember seeing a finance department poll about a year ago. That poll indicated that the public said at the time that they thought there was still lots of waste in the federal government. Of course at the time the federal government would have denied that. It would have said, “Waste? Well you know, we have embarked on this program review and we have done away with that problem”. Again the public would have been way out ahead of the government which has no clue how to spend taxpayers' dollars. It spends money as if it were its own, as if it were free money that grows on trees.
Canadians today bear the highest personal income taxes in the G-7 by a long, long way. They are rightly concerned that the government has no concept of how hard they work to earn that money, that the government sees the taxpayers as geese that need to be plucked once in a while, and it wants to do it while eliciting the least amount of hissing. We see it every year with the bracket creep and other tax measures that bring in ever more money. The government completely wastes it in so many cases.
I urge my colleagues across the way to pay attention not only to the concerns of the official opposition but to the concerns of Canadians everywhere. They have raised a lot of questions and are very concerned about this. Any time we turn on a talk show we hear about these concerns. We are urging the government across the way to pay serious attention to this.
I do not think that the government really got the message during the recent furor over the $20 million that was proposed to go to the NHL. That was bad enough but this problem is literally 50 times worse.
Colleagues across the way do not seem to think it is an issue at all. I warn them that unless they take responsibility, this issue will plague them right into the next election campaign. The official opposition will make a point of ensuring that it is an issue in the next election campaign.
It is also time to talk about what is going on in the other departments we have mentioned. We do not believe it is limited to the Department of Human Resources Development. We believe there is a culture of neglect within the government, that the government is rotten to the core when it comes to simple neglect, incompetence and managing taxpayers' money. We already have evidence that that occurs in the department of Indian affairs as I pointed out.
We saw it also fairly recently with the issue of parties on coast guard vessels off the coast of Atlantic Canada. Taxpayers' money was being improperly spent there.
My colleague from St. Albert repeatedly raises these issues. As the chair of the public accounts committee, he produces a waste report that points not to just a few dollars but millions of dollars of waste that occur every year in every department.
I do not think I can emphasize enough why it is important that we have an independent audit of what goes on in the government. Obviously the government simply cannot be trusted to do it. We have seen what happens when it is allowed to go ahead and make all these decisions itself.
In closing I will caution one final thing. The tendency will be for the government to say that it had this problem under control. It will try to limit the debate to the issue of human resources development. I do not think we should allow it to get away with that.
It is fairly clear now. The current Minister of Human Resources Development came from the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Department where there were problems. The current international trade minister was the human resources minister before that and the current foreign affairs minister was the human resources minister before that.
If those ministers allowed all of this to happen on their watch, I would be very interested in knowing what is going on in their present departments. I suspect the same lack of attention to the management of those departments is rampant today in their present portfolios. I would also argue that the Prime Minister, who seems so sanguine and carefree about this whole issue, should ultimately be held accountable for the decisions he has made in putting those people in there in the first place.
To sum up, the government should be ashamed of its lack of response to this billion dollar boondoggle. The concept of accountability decrees that people should be punished for this mismanagement.
Ultimately we believe that a resignation or resignations are in order. Ultimately the way out of this mess is to call into question whether or not all of these grants are necessary and whether they should be done by this level of government. Ultimately we believe there should be transparent financial administration in place, something we have yet to see from this government which whenever it has the chance tries to hide what is going on. That was made abundantly clear by the Minister of Human Resources Development today in question period.
That is a cautionary note to the government across the way. I think it ignores the concerns of the public at its peril.